If I ever had to meet a member of the feminist organization Femen, I’d only pose these questions:
If not, who is the oppressor? I want answers.
Edit: Thanks to Alex’s help, I’m emailing these questions to FEMEN right now. Here’s the email address: email@example.com
Feel free to ask the “proper” feminists the “true” meaning of feminism.
When American feminists tell me about the importance of protecting reproductive rights, do they believe that Black, Latino, undocumented, Iraqi, Afghan, Pakistani women have reproductive rights, too? Or is that one of those areas where we just can’t expect the Dems to protect “my fondest dreams”? Do we have obligations to hold the Dems accountable for active harms to women around the world?
When Emily Hauser tells me that about POTUS and the Dems’ aggressive attempts to “protect” the bodily autonomy of women—in the face of facts that dispute it, such as increased incarceration rates, poverty, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures for Black and Latina women, and increased every-other-kind-of-targeting for well-being of the brown (most often Muslim) women, I have to wonder what she thinks about the following:
Does the imprisonment/solitary confinement/indefinite incarceration of men–who are Muslim, black, Latino, Asian–count as a “gender issue”?
Does the economic and political detriment to women from having their sons, spouses, brothers, fathers entrapped and arrested–count as “a feminist issue”? By economic and political detriment, I mean the social ostracization, the material effect of the loss of income, the political vulnerability of having a male who is potentially the head of a household.
Does the deportation of hundreds of thousands of men AND women—and the separation of U.S. citizen/children from their parents annually count as an issue that “affects” women? By “affect,” I mean the psychic, material, social vulnerability to survive, to thrive, to live free of fear and harm. Does the legal adoption of those children to U.S. citizen parents and the subsequent break-up of families count as a “woman’s” issue?
These questions must be asked. Can we please give Falguni Sheth a God damn standing ovation right now?
The feminist movement is generally periodized into the so-called first, second and third waves of feminism. In the United States, the first wave is characterized by the suffragette movement; the second wave is characterized by the formation of the National Organization for Women, abortion rights politics, and the fight for the Equal Rights Amendments. Suddenly, during the third wave of feminism, women of colour make an appearance to transform feminism into a multicultural movement.This periodization situates white middle-class women as the central historical agents to which women of colour attach themselves. However, if we were to recognize the agency of indigenous women in an account of feminist history, we might begin with 1492 when Native women collectively resisted colonization. This would allow us to see that there are multiple feminist histories emerging from multiple communities of colour which intersect at points and diverge in others. This would not negate the contributions made by white feminists, but would de-center them from our historicizing and analysis.
Indigenous feminism thus centers anti-colonial practice within its organizing. This is critical today when you have mainstream feminist groups supporting, for example, the US bombing of Afghanistan with the claim that this bombing will free women from the Taliban (apparently bombing women somehow liberates them).
We live in a world where children as young as 5 have already internalized the message that black is ugly and white is pretty. We live in a world where fashion magazines regularly lighten the skin of women of color. We live in a world where, when asked why they didn’t use more models of color, brands respond with, “Well, we couldn’t find any good ones.”
This is one of the main reasons, women of colour, third world feminists, black feminists etc. don’t recognize themselves with mainstream white feminism. The issue is that mainstream feminism views everything from a single lens perspective. They view themselves to be white saviours who can move ahead and fix the situation of women around the world, even if it means lack of understanding and respect of others’ culture, religion and identity.
Canadian Pakistani Ayesha Asghar and Chilean Muslim feminist Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente share their wonderful thoughts in “Towards a Recognition of Multiple Feminism: The Voice of Muslim Women.”
More insightful comments by them:
The same trend has been witnessed by the rise of Islamophobia in West especially after the incident on September 11, 2001. We do recognize that patriarchy exists in our cultures and there are some serious issues around women and their access to basic rights, but we are not in favour of the fact that western white women, can come up and speak on our behalf. We are more than capable of speaking up for ourselves. This act of taking space and leadership by white women on issues of women of colour and Muslim women, de-legitimatizes and reduces the impact of our work. This places women of colour and esp. Muslim women in a difficult position where they are fighting patriarchy in their spaces but they also have to ask ‘white women’ to back off.
"I hate how the west has robbed the label of "progressive" from us" [said] Paco Bernal.
I had to rethink my feminism when I felt like Western feminists treated brown women like me like as if we’re endangered species. My voice wasn’t important to them. They just wanted a picture to misunderstand and exaggerate about.
Guess who’s reading this to her class tomorrow? That’s right. Me.
why did you let me through the doors in the first place
if you were just gonna turn around and force me out?
why did you let me in this ivory tower
filled with hippie feel-good activist academics
debating about feminist organizing in high theory discourse
while barely-paid migrant workers prepare lunches
for seminars, conferences, forums
and get deported the next day
an award winning tenured professor once told me
the only way i will succeed at graduate school
is if i read 300 pages of theory per week per class
and if i’m not capable
my writing must be of low quality
my intellect must be incredibly juvenile
nothing could be wrong with the way things are
because to change the rules would
undermine what it means to receive a graduate school education
and would leave me unprepared to
compete for future jobs and faculty positions
let me ask you
exactly which graduate student’s education are you concerned about here?
not single mothers who need extra time to look after their families
not pregnant women who need a little more maternity leave
not low-income folks who need to take 2nd or 3rd jobs
to pay bills their funding doesn’t cover
not racialized international students who don’t have access to most scholarships
not the people with disabilities
who don’t have access to comply with the way things are
made to feel something is wrong with them
instead of with the rules themselves
not those who survive sexual violence
and need extra time to grieve rage or deal
not anyone with familial, historical ties
to places and races always under siege
living under governments set on killing their people
who must spend free time at sit-ins or rallies
where emotions and exhaustions run too high
drumbeats and chants ring too loud
to read a detached article due for class the next day
not Indigenous students who are expected
to read speak and engage with
languages, theories, and knowledges
that erase appropriate and colonize
their lands, cultures, and selves
with the same ease as the colonizers
not people of colour subjected to
subtle and blatant racism
making it impossible to participate
the same way as their white peers
not anyone who needs to spend every moment of their leisure timefinding other ways of learning
through art, community activism, collective therapy(or a mashup of all three)
your ideal graduate student is
someone who doesn’t have to experience community organizing
because you’ve already assigned them five chapters to read about it
your ideal graduate student is
someone who can’t talk about positionality or privilege without referencing some article
your ideal graduate student is
able-bodied and -minded enough
to be given luxury of enjoying sitting in a corner reading 900 pages aweek
(with their fair trade starbucks coffee in hand and their lulu lemon trackpants on ass)
your ideal graduate student
IS NOT ME
so WHY did you let me through these doors in the first place
if you were just gonna turn around and shove me out?
to fill some quota for affirmative action?
to appear like a progressive program without putting in the effortof actually being one?
don’t pretend you’re not secretly wishing you could
impersonate my lawyer to kidnap me
and deport me in a heartbeat
if i did so much as look at you funny
write an angry poem
and undermine your authority
by rolling my eyes at your hypocrisy
feminism in academia – OWN UP TO YOURSELF
do not pretend to be the godsend intellectually paving the revolution
recognize that the ones let through these doors by some strategic mistakeare the ones making you look goodwhile we burn out and burn up by your hands
what is it about your knowledge and educationthat prevents you from imagining
all the different reasons someone may be in graduate schoolor feel the need to study gender, race, sexuality, and class?
some of us are not here to one day
soullessly recite the entire cannon of queer theory development
with our hearts and minds closed
some of us do not wish to compete to be the
newest biggest baddest radical faculty-hire
some of us need to engage with feminist theory
so we can ground it in our community activist workour creative work
our personal relationshipsfor our families, communities and histories
for our own fucking deserved peace of minds
maybe we need to know how to make sense of oppression
because we’re so heartbroken
we don’t want to end up being locked away in psychiatric institutions
or in a hospital overdosed on pills, getting our stomachs pumped
because we don’t know WHY all this shit is constantly driving us CRAZY
what i want to know is why the fuck YOU were let through these doors
and made to think you could decide all the rules FOR US?
you tell me my intellect is lacking
i’m not worthy of being here
if i’m not capable of doing exactly what you say
exactly your way
but i choose to follow the kind of wisdom your 300 pages per week per
classcould never teach you
it’s gotten me this fucking far
We’re not really equal when we’re STILL supposed to uncritically and obediently cheer when white women are praised for winning “women’s rights,” and to painfully forget the Indigenous women and women of colour who were hurt in that same process. We are not equal when in the name of “feminism”, so-called “women’s only” spaces are created and get to police and regulate who is and isn’t a “woman” based on their interpretation of your body parts and gender presentation, not your own. We are not equal when initiatives to achieve gender equity have reverted yet again to “saving” people and making decisions for them, rather than supporting their right to self-determination, whether it’s engaging in sex work, or wearing a niqab. So when feminism itself has become its own form of oppression, what do we have to say about it? Western notions of polite discourse are not the norm for all of us, and just because we’ve got some new and hot language like “intersectionality” to use in our talk, it doesn’t necessarily make things change in our walk (i.e., actually being anti-racist). And I have to say that these uncomfortable processes have been worth the many paths that brought the different contributors of the book together to tell their sometimes uncomfortable truths — not just about feminism, but about themselves and where they are coming from.
But now I’m going to take a stand and say that I’m constantly questioning what feminism even is, and I’m increasingly disturbed every day by the gate-keeping of who and what gets to decide the answer to that question.
When we or others decide to celebrate us, white women scream out “REVERSE RACISM” but we have to comb through 50-11 magazines with white women on every page to find ONE with a Black woman on the cover.